Laws Relating To Rash And Negligent Driving Must Be Amended

Laws Relating To Rash And Negligent Driving Must Be Amended

Let me state at the very outset that I am most hurt not by repeated accidents by juveniles but by Centre’s lackadaisical approach in not doing anything to contain the growing damage by suitably amending the laws relating to rash and negligent driving. It is no wonder that India tops in the world for having the maximum number of deaths caused by road accidents with 1.40 lakh deaths reported in 2014. On an average, this comes to 16 lives lost every hour which is most concerning! For how long will Centre keep on looking like a mute spectator?

How many more promising young lives like Siddhartha Sharma who was mowed down just recently by a minor’s joyride on Mercedes car will we keep on losing before finally Centre feels the dire necessity to enact a strict law relating to rash and negligent driving so as to deter others from doing so again and again? Why Centre is unmoved inspite of India losing lakhs of lives in road accidents every year? Why Centre just does not want to do anything on this score? It is just beyond my comprehension at least as to why Centre has not enacted a strict law even after many precious lives have been lost repeatedly since last so many decades!

A city businessman’s minor son, allegedly speeding in a Mercedes Benz while out on a joyride with seven friends, mowed down a 32-year-old business consultant – Siddhartha Sharma as he was crossing the road in North Delhi’s Sham Nath Marg on night of April 4, 2016. Locals said the accident took place around 9 pm, after Sharma had got noodles packed for dinner from a shop opposite a five-star hotel and was walking back home. “The impact was such that the victim was flung 10 feet into the air and landed on his neck,” said Sudhir Kumar, a lawyer who was at the spot! He had not eaten noodles and wanted to have it with his sister but destiny had something else in store for him!

Hemraj Sharma who is a former Navy officer and father of the victim Siddhartha very rightly voiced his bitterness at the existing law and how easily the spoiled rich kids escape any punishment by paying bribe and the offence is also bailable with very minor punishment! I completely agree with him that the law now needs to be changed. It cannot continue uninterruptedly in the same manner for eternity!

Hemraj very rightly said that not just the kid but even his father must be given most strict punishment because it is the father who handed over key of the car to his child knowing fully well the dangerous consequences of doing so! Why should then the father of the child who killed Siddhartha escape punishment or be let off lightly? It is here that our laws need to be suitably amended!

Why Under Section 279 of the IPC is rash driving punishable with just 6 months or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees or with both? The language of the Section clearly implies that a person indulging in rash and negligent driving on a public way can get away even by just paying a tip of Rs 100 or Rs 200 or at the most Rs 1000! This is exactly what is highly objectionable and needs to be amended. There must be mandatory imprisonment of at least few years or an year at least and in addition fine of at least 50,000 so that it acts as an effective deterrent and spoiled brats are not able to get away just by paying a tip of a hundred or few hundreds or thousand! Also, the law must be made non-bailable!

Not just stopping here, even Section 304A which deals with causing death by negligence needs to be drastically amended. Presently, an accused escapes easily with imprisonment which may extend to 2 years which means he/she can get away with even lighter sentence or can get away with just fine or with both which we see happening in cases which are few and far between. In addition, the offence is bailable. This Section 304A needs a thorough revamp! The earlier this is done, the better it shall be in the interest of the safety of all of us who travel by road!

It is very sad to note that absence of a new, tougher road safety law helps teenager miscreants to escape easily with either no punishment at all or with very minor punishment. Even adults escape with very less punishment as we can see from the language of Section 304A and 279 itself. This needs to change now at the earliest. No more delay on any count is acceptable on this score.

I would also like to tell my esteemed readers here that just inserting changes in IPC alone are not enough. Even the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 needs a thorough review! Under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 the teenager’s father even if proven guilty will have to spend just three months in prison and pay a fine of Rs 1000. This is a complete mockery of the feelings of those who lose their near and dear ones as they feel that law is biased and encourages them to kill anyone as per their own whims and fancies and get away most lightly! A senior traffic official said, “The problem is that unfortunately the existing Motor Vehicle Act is not a deterrent for people. They commit an offence and just throw Rs 100 at the traffic constable’s face.”

Siddharth’s friend Sidhant said that, “The challan records on the policed website show that the car was fined for speeding last month. Their family is yet to clear that fine. They must be habitual offenders. Police must act strongly.” According to Delhi Traffic Police records, the car had been slapped with challans five times in the last eight months for offences such as ignoring traffic signal, speeding, unauthorized parking and negligent driving. There is no record, however, showing who was driving the car on any of the five occasions.

Ever since taking charge of the ministry in 2014, road and highways minister Nitin Gadkari has been listing the passage of the crucial Bill which considerably enhances punishment as one of his top priorities. The law will replace the 26-year-old Motor Vehicles Act that was last amended in 2001 and proposes stringent penalties that would get harsher and harsher as the gravity of the offence increases – a Rs 1 lakh fine and not less than four years in jail for causing death by over-speeding, Rs 10,000 fine and impounding of vehicle if an unauthorized person is driving the vehicle, etc.

I personally feel that there must be at least seven years in jail if a death is caused and fine must be not less than Rs 50,000. But something is better than nothing. At least some change must be made and what transport minister Nitin Gadkari has been trying to pass must be made into a law at the earliest. Sources said that with states continuing to protest over several provisions of the Bill on the ground that it impinges on their federal rights, the ministry has now constituted a group of ministers comprising transport ministers of seven states to review the Bill and thrash out the differences.

A transport ministry official said that, “It’s a comprehensive law covering all aspects of road safety and transport. We want to get the states on board before introducing the bill in Parliament. Since issues related to proposed law fall in the purview of concurrent list, it’s important that there is a consensus. Otherwise, it would be difficult to get the bill cleared in Parliament.” Let’s hope the differences are thrashed out soon and a law is enacted at the earliest.

-Sanjeev Sirohi,

Advocate,

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